The Secretary General of the Ghana Olympic Committee (GOC), Richard Akpokavie, claims the Ghana Immigration Service and Australian Border Control were “uncooperative” in providing crucial information about those who were deported from the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, for attempting to enter Australia by false pretenses, according to a report by the GOC’s Sub-committee that investigated the immigration and visa issues arising out of Ghana’s participation in the Games.
In a general comment in the report which was submitted to the GOC executive board on 15th February, 2019, the sub-committee chaired by a Justice of the Appeals Court, Justice Amadu Tanko, stated that its work had been hampered by the unavailability of information on the deportees.
“The Committee hereby places on record that it could not get access to crucial information about the deported persons as requested through the Secretary General of the GOC,” the report stated. It added, “The Secretary General of the GOC has explained that the inability to procure the particulars of the deportees was due to the uncooperative attitude of the Australian Border Control and the Ghana Immigration Service.”
The information on the names and number of deportees could have potentially opened the lid on the characters and key personalities involved in the scandal and the actual number of people deported in what is regarded as one of the biggest visa racketeering scandals in the history of Ghana sports.
Neither the GOC scribe nor the committee gave any particular reason(s) why the GIS had failed to submit the said information but the committee summed up its findings with a damning verdict: “The Committee finds that visa racketeering through fraudulent representation for either financial gain or nepotic motives is endemic, condoned and facilitated at the highest level of the GOC and NSA,” it said.
Back in March-April, 2018, the deportees were held up in the GIS prison in the capital Accra and admittedly interrogated before being released to go home as they flooded radio stations with their horror stories.
It will be recalled that a government of Ghana press release on 12th April, 2018 announcing the suspensions of three top officials- the then Deputy Minister of Sports Pius Enam Hadzide, the then Acting Director General of the National Sports Authority Robert Sarfo Mensah and the NSA Board Chairman Kwadwo Baah Agyemang- and the recall of the GOC President and Chef de Mission from the Games mentioned that 60 Ghanaians had been deported. Back in April, 2018, a statement from the presidency and signed by the Director of Communications at the presidency Eugene Arhin at the time said, “the decision was taken after preliminary investigations into how some 60 persons were arrested for attempting to enter Australia under false pretenses in the ongoing 21st Commonwealth games.”
But information later emerged that a memo sent to the Presidency on 12th April, 2018 by the Minister of Youth and Sports Isaac Asiamah which formed the basis of the subsequent suspensions by government actually stated, “more than 60 Ghanaians” had been deported from the Games.
“Indeed more than 60 Ghanaians were detained in, and deported from Australia. The question is who facilitated the acquisition of the visas and the accreditation for the rest of the people and how did these people escape the attention of the deputy Minister if he claims to be innocent,” the Minister quizzed in the memo, as read by Veteran journalist Mr. Kweku Baako on Newsfile on Joy News TV on 14th July, 2018.
Meanwhile, the latest information gathered from the GOC’s sub-committee’s report suggests more individuals and groups were involved in the scandal than earlier thought.
In his report marked as ‘Exhibit 2’, the GOC President Ben Nunoo Mensah admitted there were unauthorised entries in the GOC’s accreditation system, abuse of the media accreditation system and other individuals who tried to enter Australia by false pretenses.
“We suggest that the leadership of all the various supporters groups or travel and tour operators who secured visas from the Australian High Commission in Accra for individual Ghanaians or groups must all be looked at,” Mr. Mensah whose own mother association, the Ghana Weightlifting Federation, added 3 unknown names to their team list said.
Under pressure from the public, the GOC had released 70 names of journalists accredited for the Commonwealth Games Gold Coast 2018 in a press release on 17th April, 2018, which named 19 individual media houses and 70 individuals. But the number released was well below the about 90 accredited journalists the GOC’s Press Attaché Ken Adade had mentioned in a GOC YouTube post on 12th March, 2018. Conspicuously missing from the GOC’s list was that of the Finder newspaper whose sports editor interestingly is also Ken Adade.
In addition, the GOC is yet to account for the many introductory letters it said had been signed off by the 1st Vice President of the GOC, Paul Atchoe, to some “journalists” to help them secure visas from the Australian High Commission in Accra. Media reports while the Games were going on in Gold Coast 2018 flagged up that more than 60 Ghanaians had either been stranded, detained or deported from Australia by immigration authorities of Australia and transit countries like Singapore on suspicions of visa fraud. The Ghanaians carried visas as journalists issued by various media organizations in Ghana and claimed they were due to cover their country’s team at Gold Coast 2018. But Australian immigration were not convinced about their reasons for travelling because the travelers did not carry the recommended equipment as journalist for coverage of such as a sporting event.